Wednesday, May 11, 2011


What did the ancient Chinese philosophers and observers of humanity mean by Yin and Yang and why is it an important philosophical contribution in the modern world? Reading an English translation of Chinese literature, I found no clear definition, although it became obvious that the two words represented extremes on either side of a median, the equivalent of the "bell-shaped curve" which is so popular with statisticians today. Thus, the idea of a “point of balance”, expressed thousands of years ago, is as important today as it was then. It applies to lifestyle and nutrition. If something is good for us, more of it may be better, but an excess is bad. There must always be an optimum state.

It is worth noting the ancient origin of this very important philosophical concept. Genealogies of Chinese dynasties list the Yellow Emperor as the third of China's first five rulers and ascribe to him the period of 2697-2597 BCE. The Age of the Five Rulers is said to have lasted 647 years (2852-2205 BCE) and is called the "Legendary Period". The Yellow Emperor is considered to be the author of NEI CHING SU WEN, the classic treatise on internal medicine, and supposedly the oldest medical book extant. The development of Chinese medical philosophy even predates this and may have been in existence for centuries before the book was written. With our short lives, the wisdom of the ages locked up in books that are rarely read, we have accumulated a vast amount of knowledge that is largely ignored. This is so ingrained that a reference older than about 10 years, provided for a medical article is considered to be “out of date”. We should be building our perpetual gain of knowledge standing on the shoulders of history. But how we access it is extremely difficult, particularly when it is often thought to be the primitive concepts of an age gone by.

The idea of “balance” in the human body is best illustrated by considering the intake of oxygen. We cannot live without it and its excess is lethal, as every diver knows. Another illustration is from the history of selenium, now known to be an essential nutrient. Until 1957, selenium was classified as a poison. Then someone, initially thought to be “crazy”, found that it was essential to life as a nutrient. It is the “dose window” that counts, that amount between too little and too much. We require selenium in a vanishingly small daily dose that is measured in micrograms, one thousandth of a milligram. All the essential nutrients, even water, have their own “dose window”. For example, both oxygen and vitamin C have very large dose windows as do most of the vitamins. Minerals are different and their limited dose windows make it much easier to reach a toxic level. They should always be ingested under the care of a professional who understands the developing art and science of nutritional supplementation.

It is obvious that pharmaceutical drugs all have dose windows and toxicity from their use is disastrous since every person has his/her own tolerance and there are at least one hundred thousand deaths a year in the U.S. in people using such drugs as prescribed according to the published dose “safety” in Physicians Desk Reference (PDR). Nutrient supplements are used therapeutically in doses that exceed the expected daily intake. They are therefore being used as drugs since they influence our physiology. There has never been a report of death from their use in the emerging paradigm of Complementary Alternative Medicine.

I was surprised one day when I found a book that described an animal experiment. The investigators put together a diet that was completely free of lead and they described the difficulty of its preparation. When they fed it to young animals, they failed to grow. When the minute amount of lead was restored, they began to grow. Everyone today knows that lead is poisonous, but the idea of a minute dose being essential, like selenium, is extremely surprising and known by only a few. It may well be that the entire periodic table represents our nutritional requirement. This would make sense of the formula used in the burial service “dust to dust and earth to earth”. Boron has been used clinically to strengthen bones and calcium is known by all as an element of bone. Both are potentially toxic when used improperly. Could it be that even mercury in vanishingly minute doses is essential, like lead? Nobody, to my knowledge, has attempted to find out.

An experiment in mice was published two years ago. Normal mice were overfed and, as expected, they became obese. It was found that a gene for a mechanism in the hypothalamus, the epicenter of the lower brain computer, was silent if nutrition was appropriate. With overfeeding this gene became active and caused obesity and/or inflammation or both. Since the mouse genome is surprisingly close to human, perhaps we can extrapolate from mouse to man. If that is true for us, can we suggest a reason for this apparent anomaly? In times of plenty, it would have been an advantage for our ancestors to become fat so that they could survive on it in a period of food deficiency. It would be a solution that only Mother Nature could invent. Perhaps we have our own solution to the epidemic of gross obesity in America for we know that obese people are more at risk for chronic disease that involves inflammation. Inflammation is a perfectly normal process when it is induced in the body as a defensive mechanism. If we cut ourselves, inflammation brings in the right amount of blood containing the white cells to fight infection and the nutrients and oxygen to provide the energy for healing. But if it gets out of hand and is applied to tissues that do not require it, it becomes a cause of inflammatory disease, the Yin and the Yang of extremism once again. It is an interesting comment on the gross malnutrition that is being experienced in this crazy world. It does no good to say that we should use “this” or “that” diet. I tell all my patients the same thing: eat “God made” food and leave the man made junk alone. The further we go from our biologic origins, the greater the peril. If the food had not been on the Earth when man arrived on it, we could not have survived as a species. It was all natural and all we had to do was to hunt and gather.

Our stewardship of planet Earth has been and continues to be destructive and our source of food containing all the nutrients that we require to remain healthy is compromised. Many people are becoming sick, not so much from 3 meals a day (although that is bad enough) but what they consume between meals in social activities. Sugar is indeed dangerous and the universal accompaniment of high sugar snacks with watching TV is a potent source of trouble for those that are sensitive to its ingestion. The trouble is they have no idea at all that their multiple symptoms are related and keep going to their doctors for medicines that they do not need if they were made acquainted with the real cause. I tell people to stay away from the “hair of the dog that is biting them” and eat only “God made food”. It is well to remember that even some of that is compromised. Cow’s milk was “invented” for calves and is not intended for humans, some of whom get sick from its consumption, a surprise for many when its commercial touting is so common. Unfortunately, proper food has become so expensive that many people are unable to afford it, particularly when they have to trim the budget for a family. I am aware that there will be some that read this that will automatically reject it as nonsense. They will say “If this is so important to our health, why have doctors in general not adopted these simple principles”? Well, even though the inherent dangers of tobacco are now well accepted by all, there are still thousands that still smoke. It would be difficult for them not to know the risks, so why do they continue to commit slow suicide? It is incredibly difficult to pass on wisdom, as illustrated by ignoring the advice capability of elderly people in our modern era. At one time age was respected. Now it is trashed and the young are totally ignorant of what they are missing in their planning for life.

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